Kim Kardashian West has produced a line of shapewear for pregnant women. You probably don't need me to tell you what's wrong with that sentence – or why it is troubling that someone famous for promoting organ-crushing corsets and appetite-suppressing lollipops is setting her sights on the one time in a woman's life when you might think she'd get a break from the relentless scourge of body shaming.
Skims Maternity Solutionwear, which launches this week, "offers the best in comfort and support for your changing body during and after pregnancy", Kardashian West announced on Instagram.
It is the latest addition to the rapidly expanding range of shapewear she launched a year ago, which sells “solutions for every body” – as though tummy rolls and cellulite are potentially catastrophic glitches requiring urgent intervention from teams of trained specialists, rather than by-products of having a human body.
Online reaction to this latest foray into maternity “solutions” was divided between those who were aghast, and those who couldn’t wait to get their hands on a pair of sculpting high waist pregnancy knickers of their own.
The model Chrissy Teigen, who is pregnant with her third child, posted a video online enthusiastically endorsing the range's staying power. "If you're wearing regular, basic ass underwear, all it does is roll inside of folds I didn't even know I had," she said.
Others were less focused on the range’s practical pros and cons than the disturbing message it sends to the pregnant, or soon-to-be-pregnant.
Jameela Jamil, who has previously accused Kardashian West of being “a double agent of the patriarchy”, wrote on Instagram: “I wish we could just normalise just focusing on the inside of a pregnant body, not the outside. You don’t need your shape corrected or hidden ... Pregnancy is hard enough, with enough worries already,” she wrote on Instagram.
Kardashian West’s isn’t the first range of maternity shapewear out there: brands like Spanx and JoJo Maman Bebe offer various kinds of giant knickers to support the bump and smooth the thighs. Their focus is on comfort and support, but unless you’re suffering from specific back or pelvic issues, is there really any need to hide your bump in layers of nylon and spandex?
I’ve been pregnant three times, and my abiding memory is of finding anything more heavy duty than cotton across the bump akin to a kind of hot, sweaty, torture.
In any case, the marketing surrounding Skims is very clear. This is not really about comfort, but about reshaping, disguising, smoothing, concealing, finding novel ways to hate yourself.
Her maternity sculpting bodysuit, for example, “lifts bust, smooths and shapes thighs and butt; full back coverage smooths upper back”. Conveniently, it comes with an – I can barely type the words without heaving – “open gusset” (she prefers “pee hole”) to facilitate bathroom breaks and a non-compression core to allow the bump to grow.
We should be thankful that at least the bump is allowed to grow, because everything else must be restricted, compressed and bullied into mannequin-like smoothness.
Kardashian West, of course, didn’t invent body shaming in pregnancy. It starts almost as soon as you announce your happy news: the running commentary about whether you’re growing too fast or are worrying small; the interrogation on what you shouldn’t be eating or drinking; the expressions of faux sympathy if you’re not seen to return to your pre-body fast enough; the downright disapproval if do it too fast.
Just ask Vogue Williams, who recently had to post a lengthy account of her diet and exercise regime online after some “awful” comments on how she had “snapped back” (a term she hates) too quickly. “It’s not something I aspire to do after having a child, nor do I think it’s important. My body is different to other people’s,” she said, entirely sensibly.
It’s worth repeating this as often as it takes until it sinks: no-one’s jean size is an achievement. And the best approach to commenting on other people’s changing bodies is not to.
This is especially true if they’re currently, or recently, or possibly hoping to be, pregnant. After I had a baby six weeks too early and far too small, the fact that I was able to leave hospital in my pre-pregnancy jeans was not a source of joy in my bereft, hormone-addled state, but a painful reminder of how my body had “failed”. I was anxious, exhausted and pining for my tiny infant, who weighed under 4lbs and had to stay behind in the special care unit.
If I’d had a free nappy change for every time someone well-meaning but thoughtless said, “at least you look great”, I’d I wouldn’t have had to touch a baby wipe for months.
It’s not Kim Kardashian West’s fault that our bodies are somehow always “wrong”, even during pregnancy. She might not have invented body shaming, but she is building an empire out of it.
There’s something grim about her wholehearted endorsement of corsets and concealment, reminders of a Victorian era when women went into “confinement” during their final months, lest anyone be offended by visible evidence that they were growing another human.
These days, you don’t need to go into confinement to make your pregnancy publicly acceptable. You can just pick up Kim’s €55”‘maternity sculpting bodysuit” instead. But why would you bother?